From: Hebrews 10:1-10
The Sacrifices of the Old Covenant Could Not Take Away Sins
Christ’s Offering of Himself Has Infinite Value
1. The sacred writer once more compares the Old Testament sacrifices with the
sacrifice of Christ (cf. 7:27; 9:9-10, 12-13), examining them now from the point of
view of their efficacy.
The Law is “a shadow”, that is, something without substance. The term used to
be employed by artists to describe the first sketch on a canvas, a bare outline be-
fore the application of color. Thus, the Old Law in relation to the New Testament
is like a first sketch as compared with the finished painting. However, because it
speaks of the New Testament as “the true form of these realities”, it allows us to
see the New Covenant as not yet giving possession of these “good things to
come”, but as being a kind of anticipation of them, a reflection of them. Yet it is
a true, a faithful, reflection, insofar as the New Law already has the power to for-
give sins and to link men with God through charity. “The New Law”, St Thomas
says, “represents the good things to come more clearly than does the Old. Firstly,
because in the words of the New Testament express mention is made of the good
things to come and the promise, whereas in the Old reference is made only to ma-
terial good things. Secondly, because the New Testament draws its strength from
charity, which is the fullness of the Law. And this charity, even if it be imperfect, is
similar to Christ’s charity by virtue of the faith to which it is joined. That is why the
new law is called the ‘law of love’. And that is also why it is called the ‘true form’,
because it has imprinted on it the image of the good things to come” (”Commen-
tary on Heb, ad loc.”).
Moreover, an image, to some degree at least, coincides with the reality it reflects:
Christ himself, for example, is the image of God. Therefore, “in Christ one already
possesses, in a permanent way, these good things of heaven—both the present
ones and the future ones” (”Chrysostom, Hom. on Heb, ad loc.”).
2-4. These verses repeat and complete what is said in v. 1 and in 9:12-13. “Tell
me, then, what is the point of having more victims and more sacrifices when a
single victim would suffice for atonement for sins [...]. Multiple sacrifices in effect
show that the Jews needed to atone for their sins because they had failed to find
forgiveness: it points to the inefficacy of the victims offered, rather than to their
power” (”Chrysostom, Hom. on Heb.”, 17). The ultimate reason for this inefficacy
is explained by a striking statement: “It is impossible that the blood of bulls and
goats should take away sins” (v. 4). There is here an echo of those proclamations
of the prophets which reminded the people that true purification comes not from
external actions but from conversion of heart (cf. Jer 2:22; 4:14; 11:15; Mic 6:7-8;
Ps 51:18-19; etc.).
And yet, is it not the case that the priests of the New Testament renew Jesus’s
sacrifice in the Mass everyday? St John Chrysostom answers: “Yes, that is true,
but not because we regard the original sacrifice, Christ’s sacrifice, as ineffective
or impotent. We priests repeat it to commemorate his death. We have but one
victim, Christ—not many victims [...]. There is but one and the same sacrifice [...],
one Christ whole and entire, here as elsewhere, the same everywhere the same
Christ on all the altars. Just as Jesus Christ, although offered in different places,
has only one body, so everywhere there is but one sacrifice [...]. What we do is
a commemoration of Christ’s offering, for at the Supper he said, ‘Do this in me-
mory of me.’ Therefore, we do not offer, as the high priest of the Law did, a new,
additional, victim: it is not one sacrifice more, but always the same one” (”Hom.
on Heb.”, 17).
The Mass “is the sacrifice of Christ, offered to the Father with the cooperation of
the Holy Spirit—an offering of infinite value, which perpetuates the work of the Re-
demption in us and surpasses the sacrifices of the Old Law. The holy Mass brings
us face to face with one of the central mysteries of our faith, because it is the gift
of the Blessed Trinity to the Church. It is because of this that we can consider the
Mass as the center and the source of a Christian’s spiritual life. It is the final end
of all the sacraments” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ Is Passing By”, 86-87).
5-10. This passage carries a quotation from Psalm 40:7-8, but one taken from the
Greek translation, the Septuagint, not from the Hebrew. Where the Hebrew says,
“thou hast opened my ears”, the Greek reads, “a body thou hast prepared for me”.
The difference is not substantial, because the Hebrew expression points to the
docility and obedience of the speaker, who is the Messiah himself. The Greek
translation gives the sentence a more general meaning: God has not only opened
the ears of the Messiah; he has given him life as a man (cf. Phil 2:7). The words
of this psalm “allow us as it were to sound the unfathomable depths of this self-
abasement of the Word, his humiliation of himself for love of men even to death
on the Cross [...]. Why this obedience, this self-abasement, this suffering? The
Creed gives us the answer: ‘for us men and for our salvation’ Jesus came down
from heaven so as to give man full entitlement to ascend (to heaven) and by be-
coming a son in the Son to regain the dignity he lost through sin [...]. Let us wel-
come Him. Let us say to him ‘Here I am; I have come to do your will”’ (John Paul
II, “General Audience”, 25 March 1981).
The author of the letter, elaborating on the text of the psalm, asserts that the
Messiah’s sacrifice is greater than the sacrifices of the Old Law, unbloody as
well as bloody, sin-offerings as well as burnt offerings as they were called in the
liturgy (cf. Lev 5:6; 7:27). The sacrifice of Christ, who has “come into the world”,
has replaced both kinds of ancient sacrifice. It consisted in perfectly doing the
will of his Father (cf. Jn 4:34; 6:38; 8:29; 14:31), even though he was required to
give his life to the point of dying on Calvary (Mt 26:42; Jn 10:18; Heb 5:7-9). Christ
“came into the world” to offer himself up to suffering and death for the redemption
of the world. “He knew that all the sacrifices of goats and bulls offered to God in
ancient times were incapable of making satisfaction for the sins of men; he knew
that a divine person was needed to do that [...]. My Father (Jesus Christ said), all
the victims offered you up to this are not enough and never will be enough to sa-
tisfy your justice; you gave me a body capable of experiencing suffering, so that
you might be placated by the shedding of my blood, and men thereby saved;
‘”ecce venio”, here I am, ready’; I accept everything and in all things do I submit
to your will. The lower part of his human nature naturally felt repugnance and re-
acted against living and dying in so much pain and opprobium, but its rational
part, which was fully subject to the Father’s will, had the upper hand; it accepted
everything, and therefore Jesus Christ began to suffer, from that point onwards,
all the anguish and pain which he would undergo in the course of his life. That is
how our divine Redeemer acted from the very first moments of his coming into
the world. So, how should we behave towards Jesus when, come to the use of
reason, we begin to know the sacred mysteries of Redemption through the light
of faith?” (St. Alphonsus, “Advent Meditations”, II, 5).
The psalm speaks of “the roll of the book”: this may refer to a specific book or
else to the Old Testament in general (cf. Lk 24:27; Jn 5:39, 46, 47).
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.